The Blackwell games are point-and-click puzzle adventures in the paranormal detective genre.
The premise: Rosangela Blackwell (and her aunt Lauren Blackwell) and “mediums” who seek out troubled spirits, help them realize their death, and send them to “the light” of the next world. Joey Mallone is their snarky “spirit guide” who bridges the gap between spirit world and living world.
The first four games blended humor and creepy with some excellent writing, then ended on a little bit of a cliffhanger (especially if you knew there was a sequel).
Blackwell Epiphany is that sequel. While it’s not all I might wish it to be, it ends the series on a high note of emotional story-telling and professional game design.
The New York of Blackwell is a very small world. Old, familiar characters return frequently (or there are easter eggs that reference the previous games). And yet, for the most part, the writers make this seem reasonable within the plot.
Our protagonist Rosangela “Rosa” has grown from the first game. From a grumpy, reclusive, jaded writer…she has now embraced her role in the “spiritual” universe, and her relationship with Joey, and faces life with earnestness and a wry self-deprecation.
Having been dead since the 1920s, Joey has no filter when it comes to mocking the people and environments around him (because of course they can’t hear his ghostly voice).
His affectionate trash-talking to Rosa (and others), and his total incomprehension of modern technology make their tag-team a lot of fun.
This is amplified by the game mechanics, where you must switch back and forth between Joey and Rosa to utilize their different skills as you solve the puzzles and mysteries.
My theology does not allow for dead spirits hanging around the mortal world after their deaths. But my worldview also does not acknowledge fairies, orcs, or giant space dragons.
It’s a story. The writers have constructed an artificial world, governed by certain rules, and to experience their story I played by their rules.
Rosa and Joey are detectives, but they usually show up after the crime has been cleaned up. No gruesome body, no criminal nearby…just the residue of shattered dreams.
Especially since their MO involves helping the ghost realize he or she is dead, they have to dig into the past life of this person, uncovering joys, sorrows, ambitions, pain, delight… And then the realization hits. That’s all over.
That negative review of your show, that money you were stealing, that business you were pouring your life into…it’s all meaningless now. The story is over. Time to move on.
All the Blackwell games do an outstanding job of painting the tragedy of every lost life, and Epiphany is no exception. Each and every spirit you meet was a walking, breathing human being…and now they are gone. Sometimes barely leaving behind a footprint in reality.
I don’t think the writers have an understanding of a transcendent God who gives meaning to every single life because He made men and women in His image…but it’s poignant all the same.
Twists and Betrayal
The plot is gripping and emotional. The stakes are raised above the other games when Rosa and Joey see a spirit ripped in half before their eyes, before they can save it.
What – or who – would do this? What would have the power to rend a soul and obliterate a living being?
Racing to track down the potential victims and get some answers, the duo run into plot threads that run far back…even before Rosa’s grandmother was Joey’s unwilling host…back, in fact, to Joey’s own death and beyond.
Once again, the pacing, dialogue, and characters are exceptional… When a character betrays you, the motivations that came “out of the blue” make perfect sense in the character’s past actions and experiences. Unforeseen yet reasonable.
A Disappointing Absence
Epiphany falls short of my hopes mainly it doesn’t resolve a plot thread from the previous games. I mean the vampires. The ending of Blackwell Deception strongly hinted that Rosa and Joey would take on this parasitic organization…and one of their members makes a sinister (yet complex) plot appearance.
But in the end, those life-sucking cultists are still out there. It makes sense that over the course of writing a new game, the plot and focus would change. But that means this conflict is still unresolved for me.
Aaaah I can’t say anything about the ending. Except MY PRECIOUS FEELINGS.
My brother/play-companion thought the story mechanics were a little un-foreshadowed, like they pulled out a brand new “magic system” for the end.
But there’s no denying it’s a very “big” ending.
For one thing, it brings the character arc to completion epically and heroically. For another, I have great respect for writers who clearly tie bows on the end of their stories and signal the end of sequels –
But I would totally play a game from Joey’s POV.
Get on it, Wadjet Eye!
Epiphany plunges into somewhat darker waters than the previous games, by both broaching the subject of prostitution and depicting suicide.
The level of profanity has also increased, especially in the final part of the game (though the stakes were so high it was hard for me to notice).
Finally, remember what I said earlier about engaging with this as a story. Personally, I don’t think fan fiction would be a good indulgence for me.
If you think you would have trouble separating the Blackwell world from our own (even just emotionally or creatively), you might to let this one pass.
Play It Now!
The puzzles are tough, but fairly intuitive. The couple of pixel-hunts weren’t overly frustrating. There are a couple inventory puzzles, but not weird Monkey Island-style ones. The dialogue puzzles lead you deeper into the characters, and the places where Joey explores on his own delight the spy in me.
The voice acting and character portraits are great, and the interface is pretty intuitive.
The Blackwell series has a shining reputation among point-and-click games…and while they do have some blemishes, Epiphany definitely leaves the series on a high note. (A high note of professionalism, of course – your emotions will still be floundering somewhere below.)
(Although we didn’t need it much, I always recommend the Universal Hints System for giving you just the nudge you need to get unstuck!)
Blackwell Epiphany is available on:
Wadjet Eye Games official site (PC; demo available!)
GoG.com (Windows, Linux, and Mac; DRM-free!)
Steam (Windows only; uses DRM)
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